Legislative Update - First Policy Cutoff

Posted By: Brett Waller Advocacy News,

Monday, February 15, 2021 marked the first policy cutoff in the Washington legislature. The next important cutoff is March 9, when all proposals must be considered by their house of origin.

Download the full report here. 

Where legislation has a financial impact on the state budget, it must receive a second hearing in a fiscal committee in order to move forward. Fiscal committees consider all proposals that affect the budget and these committees are permitted one additional week (until Feb. 22) to pass policy after the first cutoff.

Overall, the majority of landlord/tenant bills moved from their policy committee as well as additional tax-related proposals. WMFHA has been heavily engaged in every proposal affecting the landlord/tenant relationship and continues to engage on all proposals that remain under consideration.

WMFHA continues to fight for reasonable policy to address the recovery from the extended moratorium and pandemic. This means:
  • Creating a gradual pathway away from the eviction moratorium
  • Providing sufficient rental assistance resources to those directly affected by the COVID pandemic
  • Building opportunities for communication and productive resolution of nonpayment of rent issues

On rental assistance, the Department of Commerce is seeking input on guidelines to distribute federal rental assistance. The program, known as Treasury Rental Assistance Program (T-RAP). will distribute rental assistance to counties for disbursement. Some local jurisdictions have also received direct allocations of federal rental assistance and may create different or additional guidelines to accessing and accepting rental assistance.

We anticipate an additional $19 billion (~$400 million to Washington) in rental assistance from the federal government by mid-March.

Recap of bills moving forward:
  • House bill 1236 was voted from its policy committee and is awaiting further consideration in the House of Representatives.
    • This proposal would enact statewide just cause eviction requirements, and as drafted eliminate the fixed term lease. Broadly speaking, just cause eviction creates adversarial relationships between housing providers and tenants, pits neighbor against neighbor, and makes it more difficult to address minor nuisance issues. More importantly, just cause eviction does not solve evictions.
    • While WMFHA has provided suggested edits to this bill, it continues to need significant changes before we would consider changing our current opposed position.    
  • House bill 1277 increases the document recording fee by $100 to fund a permanent rental assistance program, provide additional funding for affordable housing operations and maintenance, and provide additional financial support towards the Landlord Mitigation Fund. The policy is being considered by the House Appropriations Committee. 
  • House bill 1300, was voted from its policy committee and awaits further action in the House of Representatives.
    • This proposal would make drastic changes to the return of the security deposit and create onerous requirements to provide a litany of documents with the full and specific statement of deductions and prohibit charging for carpet cleaning at the termination of the tenancy.
    • WMFHA provided suggested edits to this proposal that would make this reasonable and effective for both housing providers and tenants, none of which were included in the version of the bill voted out of committee. We have not received a response to our suggested edits.
  • House bill 1421 would properly allocate responsibility of unpaid utility charges to the resident and relieve the landlord of responsibility for the tenant’s unpaid utilities. WMFHA supports this legislation.
  • House bill 1441 was voted from its policy committee and awaits further raction in the House of Representatives.
    • This proposal would prohibit the use of rental housing debt or eviction resulting from rental housing debt during COVID in future rental application decisions. 
    • WMFHA is not necessarily opposed to this piece of the COVID recovery puzzle, but the proposal should include some changes to more directly target those materially impacted by the COVID pandemic.
  • House bill 1515 would statutorily permit security deposit waiver fees in lieu of a security deposit. The proposal was voted out of its policy committee and is awaiting further action.
  • Senate bill 5160 is scheduled for a hearing in the Senate Ways & MeansCommittee.  As of this morning more than 1,700 people signed in opposition to or in support of this proposal. This bill is likely to become the vehicle for COVID recovery. 
    • As written, WMFHA strenuously opposes this legislation and is working collaboratively with coalition partners to find a path forward on a reasonable recovery plan that addresses the needs of housing providers and tenants. 
    • There is some concern regarding the ongoing financial cost to the state because of the permanency of the programs anticipated by this legislation vs. the greater benefit to Washingtonians.
  • Senate bill 5260 would require a report on the effectiveness of and improvements to the eviction resolution pilot program. The bill is awaiting further consideration by the full Senate.
  • Senate bill 5287 is an effort to expand and extend the MFTE program and is scheduled for a hearing this week in the Senate Ways & Means Committee. The current draft takes us backwards and makes the program effectively unusable by housing providers. Until significant improvements are made, WMFHA continues to have concerns with the duplicative tenant protections proposed in this bill.
  • Capital gains tax proposals continue to receive significant attention in both the House and Senate.
    • Senate bill 5096 is scheduled for executive session in the Senate Ways & Means Committee Tuesday, February 16.
    • House bill 1496 has received a public hearing but has not been scheduled for executive session.
  • Other tax preferences under consideration by the legislature:
    • House bill 1035 would permit a limited property tax exemption in properties more than 25 years old in exchange for certain rent limitations. The policy remains in the House Finance Committee.
    • House bill 1189 would give local governments the opportunity to implement tax increment financing. This policy remains in the House Finance Committee.
The following have been defeated in 2021:
  • Senate bill 5139 would have enacted rent control in Washington state. The policy did not receive a vote in his policy committee of origin.    
  • House bill 1228 was a common-sense gradual pathway towards normality receiving significant public interest. The policy did not receive a vote in his policy committee of origin. 
  • House bill 1398 was another COVID related recovery bill. The bill did not receive a hearing and is considered defeated.

***An executive session is the second policy committee hearing any proposal before the legislature has, and is typically when amendments are offered by committee members who then vote in favor of or opposed to the proposal moving forward.  Typically, if a proposal does not have a known majority of votes prior to being considered, the proposal will not receive public consideration.    

For more information about these proposals and others, please contact Brett Waller at brett@wmfha.org.